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NASA

Space Shuttle Atlantis Launches On Final Flight 275

Posted by Soulskill
from the beginning-of-the-end dept.
Space Shuttle Atlantis has just launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. STS-135 marks the final flight for the shuttle program, 30 years after Columbia touched the sky during STS-1. The mission summary (PDF) outlines STS-135's crew and event timeline. NASA's launch blog has been following the countdown all morning, and our own CmdrTaco has been tweeting live from on-site. NASA TV is also being streamed live. Meteorological reports for the launch looked doubtful at first, but a gap in the bad weather at just the right time allowed everything to proceed as planned. Atlantis successfully reached its preliminary orbit in what a NASA official called a "flawless" launch.
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Space Shuttle Atlantis Launches On Final Flight

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  • Godspeed Atlantis (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spidercoz (947220) on Friday July 08, 2011 @10:32AM (#36695276) Journal
    So goes America's dominance in space.
    • a new one will take some time to get up and going.

      • by perpenso (1613749)

        a new one will take some time to get up and going.

        That was a well known issue and the plan was to have something new before shuttle retirement. Too bad all the attempts at something new were never followed through on.

        • by Xenkar (580240)

          Too bad Congress managed to cut the funding on any replacement programs once they showed even the smallest glimmer of potentially being finished.

          "Moneys being spent on outer space?!?! This space vehicle doesn't have any pork for my congressional district! We have sovereign nations to invade using the excuse of the month and it takes more money than we have to do it! This has to go!"

          • I hope the Russians can keep the ISS up on their own. As soon as Atlantis pulls away from it to return to Earth, the betting pool opens.
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by ColdWetDog (752185)

              I hope the Russians can keep the ISS up on their own. As soon as Atlantis pulls away from it to return to Earth, the betting pool opens.

              You now, If somebody at NASA had some big balls this could work to it's advantage.

              Congresscritter: "We're shutting off funding for the ISS, the James Web Telescope and further research on Tang - we don't have the money."

              Guido from NASA: "That's a nice city you have there. Shame for something to happen to it. You know, those reentry calculations are really quite difficult and it's easy to mess up the numbers. Better if we had enough money to ensure that sort of thing could never, ever happen."

              Unfor

    • Oh, NASA is shutting down?

      • Might as well be.

        Oh sure, they'll send satellites up, and we've all been promised Russian/Chinese/Japanese flights/space stations/moonbases.

        And oh yeah, tons of private firms too!

        But I'm not holding my breath. We, the human race, are pretty much done playing outside the gravity well.

        If you remain one of these people who doesn't think today is depressing as fuck, I'd like some of what you're having.
        • Shutting down? Hardly. Aren't there exciting new research programs into how to turn shit and piss into delicacies? What could be more exciting?
    • by perpenso (1613749) on Friday July 08, 2011 @10:40AM (#36695402)

      So goes America's dominance in space.

      Well the American government's dominance(*), there is still the American commercial spaceflight industry. Let's hope the government does not over-regulate or otherwise screw up this emerging industry.

      (*) Dominance may be overstating things. The Russians have done a lot of important work, much of it complementary to America's work and experience.

      • by f1vlad (1253784) Works for Slashdot
        Exactly, we're to see how things will change when it gets privatized.
        • by kuzb (724081)

          The same thing that happen when you privatize anything. Corporations overcharge, provide shitty service, and generally use their influence to manipulate the government.

          • They also like a fat return on their investment, and 'space tourism' just won't cut it in the long run.

            We're done in space.
          • by perpenso (1613749)

            The same thing that happen when you privatize anything. Corporations overcharge, provide shitty service, and generally use their influence to manipulate the government.

            Commercial aviation proves otherwise. You may wish to quibble over service but in constant dollars airfare has come down quite a bit in price over the decades so its not unreasonable that cuts were made in other areas, or that some costs are externalized from air fare. Are there occasional screw ups, absolutely, but I don't think I'd characterize overall service poorly. I've found airline employees as helpful as they can be most of the time.

      • by eln (21727) on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:01AM (#36695766) Homepage
        Commercial space flight has no vision beyond sending tourists to LEO and throwing more satellites into higher orbits. It's never going to move beyond that on its own because the economics don't work for entities incapable of thinking that long term. Every possible monetary benefit from leaving earth orbit is so far away that no commercial entity will take it on. This is why the government needs to remain heavily involved in space exploration: if it doesn't, no one else (other than foreign governments) will.

        Retiring the shuttle program is good in some ways because it frees up resources to go for more ambitious goals like Mars and beyond. It's bad, though, in that it takes away NASA's primary method of staying in the public eye. People get excited about humans going into space. Most people don't get excited about sending robots into space. This sort of thing is important to an organization whose funding is subject to the changing political winds.

        The projects NASA has in the works sound really exciting, but with cutting cost being the name of the game in Washington these days, NASA needs all the public support it can get to keep all of its plans from dying on the vine as its budget gets eviscerated. Removing the one thing that got it on TV on a regular basis isn't a good thing in these circumstances.
        • by DrgnDancer (137700) on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:27AM (#36696188) Homepage

          "Late to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise" -- Wernher von Braun

          NASA could really do with a man like him again. Not that he was a saint, far from it as anyone who was on the receiving end of a V-2 would surely tell you, but he had the essential characteristics that made him hugely successful in selling space. He was an scientist who understood what must be done, a visionary who saw the need to do it, and a media savvy and inspiring person who could sell the package to government and the public.

          Of course his efforts were also helped immensely by the Soviet decision to give us someone to race with. Everything always seems just a bit more important when your rival is trying to beat you at it.

        • by perpenso (1613749)

          Commercial space flight has no vision beyond sending tourists to LEO and throwing more satellites into higher orbits.

          I know a few people involved in commercial space flight. Their vision extends beyond that. They are the same sort of dreamers that in the 1950s and 60s would have worked for NASA. Don't be misled by the first practical baby steps that they are attempting.

          In general I agree that gov't needs to be involved in some of the more leading edge and purely scientific missions. However that is not quite what the shuttle was doing, it was generally doing those mundane things you mentioned regard commercial enterpri

        • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Friday July 08, 2011 @12:20PM (#36697024) Homepage Journal
          You said:

          Commercial space flight has no vision beyond sending tourists to LEO and throwing more satellites into higher orbits.

          Meanwhile, the founder and CEO of a commercial spaceflight company says:

          'I'm planning to retire to Mars'

          -- Elon Musk: Founder and CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (Spacex) Citation: here. [guardian.co.uk]

          If that's not vision, I don't know what the hell definition of vision you are using. I've personally toured the facilities of SpaceX, ULA, Lockheed, Boeing, Northrop Gruman, and JPL. I can tell you right now, the energy, enthusiasm, and drive at SpaceX is in a class of its own. That company, and its founder, has more vision for the space industry than the sum total of the other agencies I have listed combined.

          Mark my words as an aerospace engineer: SpaceX is the future of successful United States space business, and they have the gumption and drive to pull off the stuff folks have been declaring to be impossible for about twenty years now. Just like Google lit a fire under the ass of stale computer companies like Microsoft and Apple, SpaceX is going to be the spark that fans a whole new flame and era of space exploration for the United States.

    • by d3vi1 (710592)
      And I've almost finished my 6h recording of NasaTV for this historical day for a total of 2.9GBytes. I wasn't alive to witness the first launch of the space shuttle, but I was alive to catch and save this one. I would also like to thank Apple for it's HTTP Live Streaming protocol. It takes only a few lines of Bash to dump the the complete 3Mbps MPEG Transport Stream (H.264+AVC) to the hard-drive. I want to be able to watch this again.
      • by d3vi1 (710592)
        s/AVC/AAC/
      • by c0d3g33k (102699)

        I wasn't alive to witness the first launch of the space shuttle

        I was, and it was wonderful. There was a time when every launch of the shuttle was an event worth noting, and those of us who were interested would gather around the radio or TV to witness the event. That stopped when shuttle launches became commonplace. That was cool, because, well, launching a ship into space should be commonplace. Sadly, this meant noone cared any longer, because shuttle launches were unremarkable and uninteresting. Now no-one cares about space any longer, and the shuttle program is

    • by c0mpliant (1516433) on Friday July 08, 2011 @10:47AM (#36695500)
      So ends America's wasteful spending on a program that didn't live up to what was promised. Maybe now space exploration can start heading back on the right direction
      • by faedle (114018)

        So ends America's wasteful spending on a program that didn't live up to what was promised.

        I didn't hear the news.. we're pulling our troops from the Middle East conflicts?

        • I was referring to the US Space Exploration budget. The United States DoD budget, farm subsidies, alternative energies budget and a handful of other massive sources of inefficent spending is a discussion for another day and another news article
        • by d3vi1 (710592)
          Oh, you poor thing... One can only dream. I do applaud your child-like innocence. Who knows, sometimes south dreams might come true. Four of the hundreds of kids that 40 years ago dreamed to be astronauts, are now in orbit, so maybe, just maybe, your dream can come to life.
          </sarcasm>
          I'm sure that NASA would have decent funding if it wasn't for the Middle-East conflicts.
      • by Sounder40 (243087) *

        Because of stupid NASA planning, true. But only partly. NASA contractors overinflated project costs whenever possible to build their stake. And congress couldn't keep their stinking fingers out of the pie, constantly micro-managing NASA spending. It was, and still is, a mess. I watched it for 15 years at JSC in Houston before I could no longer stand it.

      • by Soft (266615)
        Your comment resonates with what Arthur C. Clarke wrote in the post-Apollo preface to Prelude to Space:

        Yet when, in 1947, I set this novel exactly thirty years in the future, I did not really believe that a lunar landing would be achieved even by that distant date [...] Still less could I have imagined that the first nation to reach the Moon would so swiftly abandon it again. ...

        In one sense, the Apollo Project was indeed a Prelude to Space. Now there will be a short interlude; and sometime in the 1980s,

    • by Animats (122034)

      One shot of the launch control center after the launch showed one guy quietly cleaning out his desk, putting his stuff in his backpack, and walking out.

    • We still launch unmanned rocket on a pretty frequent basis. We are temporarily pausing a manned missions.

    • Part of what Dennis Overbye [wikipedia.org] wrote for the New York Times:

      I no longer expect to see boot prints on Mars during my lifetime, nor do I expect that whoever eventually makes those boot prints will be drawing a paycheck from NASA, or even speaking English.

    • by arisvega (1414195)
      Meh maybe [wikipedia.org] not [wikipedia.org] just [wikipedia.org] yet. [wikipedia.org]
    • by cyfer2000 (548592)
      IMHO it is turning of a new page.
  • Good Launch (Score:4, Insightful)

    by milbournosphere (1273186) on Friday July 08, 2011 @10:44AM (#36695436)
    I just watched the launch via the live feed. 30 years of good work. Now...what's next? Here's hoping NASA will have the budget to get its next vehicle up and running.
    • by kbolino (920292)

      The crews of the Challenger and the Columbia might disagree with your assessment of the quality of NASA's work.

      • Make no mistake, space travel ain't easy. Yes, those accidents were horrible. But over the course of thirty years, they put the Hubble telescope into orbit, repaired said telescope, built the international space station, launched three probes and carried many people and satellites into orbit. All of these tasks increased our understanding of the world and worlds around us, and has shown that countries can cooperate in space. These efforts were expensive and dangerous; yes, there were accidents and yes,
        • by kbolino (920292)

          Nothing done by the shuttle program was particularly revolutionary. The United States had a well established and mature space program by the time the first shuttle entered orbit. Yet two out of the five reusable launch vehicles were destroyed over the course of their lifetime, for a failure rate of 40%. The Apollo program had a similar failure rate, but it at least landed several people on the Moon. I'm not saying the shuttle program didn't improve mankind, but those improvements were merely incremental

      • by sstamps (39313)

        No. No, I don't think they would.

        Considering the difficulty to achieve manned spaceflight with so few actual failures, they knew and accepted the risks gladly. I don't think they would disagree at all.

        Anyone expecting perfection in such a cutting-edge and hugely risky endeavor is kidding themselves.

    • by rotide (1015173)
      I'm hoping NASA stops developing "day to day" vehicles and starts working on next generation technologies. They can do the research while the private industry takes the existing, proven, technology and keeps man flying into orbit. I invision NASA as the R&D arm of the space sector. They can make new and interesting satelites, plan new missions out past orbit, plan habitation on other planets, and plan straight up new tech.
      • by dpilot (134227)

        +1 on this.

        It strikes me that some 50+ years later NASA should be beyond LEO vehicles. If at this point NASA were to develop any sort of LEO capability, it should be a rapid-response rescue vehicle to go to the aid of commercial spacecraft - kind of like the Coast Guard.

        Other than that, I'd like to see NASA starting on true space flight - vehicles assembled in orbit that are never meant to get any closer to the Earth. (I was starting to thing that the rescue vehicle mentioned should be space-only until I

        • 1. We need an agency to to scientific research and develop new technologies. It was a mistake for NASA to get ensnarled in running daily operations of getting payloads into orbit.
          2. Congress should just provide the goal and the budget, not specify the means of accomplishing the goal. (no gerrymandering the pork across districts to buy votes) This should go for the military, too.
          3. The shuttle program is a camel and a fiscal failure. But it was what we had.
      • What NASA really needs to do is put time, money and man power on this [physorg.com] type of a spacecraft.

        A reusable, multi-mission space craft that is basically a space station that goes from one gravity well to another. It should have life support, exercise facilities and plenty of space for people to live in for up to a year or more. You want to go to mars? send up a lander and ascent vehicle on small launchers, attach to the Nautilus. Then send up astronauts on another small vehicle. Go to mars, do your mission

      • by Animats (122034)

        I'm hoping NASA stops developing "day to day" vehicles and starts working on next generation technologies.

        They tried that. It didn't work. See NASA Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program [nasa.gov], 1996-2002.

  • Noticed there was a long delay, but I have no speakers at work, so couldn't hear an explanation.

    TIA.

    • by kalpol (714519) on Friday July 08, 2011 @10:49AM (#36695528) Homepage

      Noticed there was a long delay, but I have no speakers at work, so couldn't hear an explanation.

      TIA.

      Sounded like they said the sensor noting retraction of the cone dome thing wasn't working so they had to verify visually (that was the camera 62 shot).

    • Apparently the computer couldn't tell if the LOX tank vent arm had properly retracted (probably a bad switch or something like that), and stopped the count. They quickly swung a camera into place to verify that it was fully retracted, then resumed the count.

  • by Danathar (267989) on Friday July 08, 2011 @10:49AM (#36695532) Journal

    SpaceX should have it's Dragon module with a crew within 3 years hopefully. They've already fired the thing in to space and retrieved it. It's just a matter of finishing off the crew support and contingency systems.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Oh, is that all.

      If they have a launch into space with a crew in 3 years, I'll eat my hat.

      Your last sentence might as well read:
      "It's just a matter of doing the most difficult and hardest stuff."

      Rockets aren't hard, launching a rocket into space isn't really hard. It's expensive, but not hard.

      • Rockets aren't hard, launching a rocket into space isn't really hard.

        Yeah. Come on, SpaceX! This is Rocket Science, not Brain Surgery!

      • Re:Dragon Spacecraft (Score:4, Interesting)

        by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Friday July 08, 2011 @12:37PM (#36697328) Homepage Journal

        Rockets aren't hard, launching a rocket into space isn't really hard. It's expensive, but not hard.

        Ha! Spoken like someone who has never tried to successfuly stabilize a chaotic system with over ten-thousand input variables to the dynamics model equations. Sorry geekoid, but anyone who honestly believes launching a rocket into space, a vehicle that is, quite literally, the size of a skyscraper which expends the energy of a large military warhead in a semi-controlled manner in under 5 minutes "isn't really hard," has officially lost all credibility on the topic of launch vehicles.

  • by Fibe-Piper (1879824) on Friday July 08, 2011 @10:50AM (#36695554) Journal

    Its hard to believe that they have mothballed such a big part of my childhood's imagination.

    Growing up with James Bond movies like Moon Raker and X-Men comics using the iconic imagery of the Space Shuttles means they will forever be my idea of futuristic space travel.

    It makes it harder to let go without a new, better, faster, inspiring vehicle to latch on to. I mean the Soyuz is rock solid, but it doesn't scream "next gen space travel...

    • I forgot to mention Airplane 2
    • by robot256 (1635039)

      It makes it harder to let go without a new, better, faster, inspiring vehicle to latch on to.

      Then join me in latching on to the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule [spacex.com]. They are the next big thing in human spaceflight, and probably the only new manned craft that will come online by the end of the decade. Yes, it is only designed for LEO, but with a ferry that cheap we'll be able to afford something bigger to go farther out.

  • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Friday July 08, 2011 @10:51AM (#36695568) Journal

    I've watched two shuttle launches live:

    The very first, Columbia, when I was a child at a friend's house.
    The very last, today's launch.

    All the others I've only seen after the fact. I did watch a re-entry live in person once from a Cessna 172 at about 11,000 feet over the north of Houston at night. It left a plasma trail across the sky from horizon to horizon. It was funny to think when we got back to Houston Gulf airport (formerly called Spaceland, hence its identifier KSPX, sadly now demolished and covered in identikit McMansions) only 40 or so miles away, the shuttle crew had already landed in Florida, disembarked, and were probably halfway though their first cup of coffee.

    • by Trixter (9555)

      I've watched two shuttle launches live:

      The very first, Columbia, when I was a child at a friend's house. The very last, today's launch.

      Same here. Glad to know someone else valued the events as historically as I did.

  • I was 3 years old (Score:5, Insightful)

    by deathcloset (626704) on Friday July 08, 2011 @10:51AM (#36695578) Journal
    When Columbia launched, according to my mother, I watched 8 hours of the broadcast. All the way from the astronauts' breakfast to the press conference past the launch. I didn't move.

    I guess even at that age we humans are capable of grasping the awesome and extraordinary quality of certain events.

    I don't know why I'm posting, except perhaps that through my whole life I have felt a deep attachment to space exploration, science and technological achievement (all of which I've always considered to coincide with humanitarianism, if not cause). The space shuttle has been the icon, the embodiment of that attachment and love.

    Lief Ericson made it to america first, but managed to stay only for a short while. It would be 500 more years before explorers returned from Europe (and not in the best form, it should be said).

    I know we from Earth will return, and I hope and believe it will not be 500 more years.
    • by Kozz (7764)

      I remember vividly the day we received the news in our elementary school via public address that the Challenger launch had a terrible ending. But there's been so much good stuff besides the relatively few (but so terrible) tragedies.

      I decided to watch today's launch here at work. A co-worker slid over and asked, "Where are they going? The moon?" No joke. Made me kind of depressed that some people are so completely and blissfully ignorant of our space program.

  • by camperdave (969942) on Friday July 08, 2011 @10:52AM (#36695582) Journal
    Just out of curiosity, is NASA hanging onto any of the shuttles just in case? Back when DIRECT [launchcomplexmodels.com] was promoting an STS-based heavy launcher, they mentioned that there were enough fuel tanks and SRBs to do quite a number of flights - more than the shuttle has done. Could they just park the thing in a hangar somewhere and dust it off if the need arose?
    • by geekoid (135745)

      No. Maintenance is too expensive, and you can't just put a sheet over this type of equipment and then let is sit.

      • Well, Atlantis's last mission was over a year ago. Surely these machines don't need a year of maintenance between launches. Looking at the flight manifest, the shortest turnaround was just under two months, and the longest was a month shy of four years. I may be wrong, but I suspect that most of that time was spent sitting in a hangar with a proverbial sheet over it.
        • by cyclone96 (129449)

          About 10 years ago I was at the VAB when all 4 orbiters were at KSC. There are only 3 bays in the Orbiter Processing Facility, and at the time the fourth shuttle was usually in Palmdale on a maintenance rotation. On the rare occasion where all four were at KSC, one had to be left in a corner somewhere waiting for it's turn in an OPF bay.

          So, as I walked into the VAB (which is essentially a 50 story open bay, with a lot of open space) off on the left is Discovery, engines out, parked in the corner with a hug

    • Just out of curiosity, is NASA hanging onto any of the shuttles just in case?

      And what exactly do they expect to do when Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones need to get into orbit to save the earth from a disabled soviet nuclear satellite? They'd better leave a battery charger on at least one of those things or we're in big trouble.

  • A post 20 minutes before the launch might have been nice.

  • End of an era (Score:4, Insightful)

    by deadhammer (576762) on Friday July 08, 2011 @11:32AM (#36696266)

    Well America, it's up to India, China and Russia now. Leave the whole "space" and "discovery" and "dreams for the future" business to the up-and-comers. They'll take over the space exploration for you so you don't need to send people up or build space telescopes anymore. You've got more pressing, practical things to worry about! Terrorism, wars, economic stuff, that sort of thing. Good run guys!

    I have to wonder... If North Korea suddenly announced that they had A) manned launch capability and B) plans to do a moon run in ten years, would America still decide that manned space travel was done and over with?

  • I watched the STS-135 launch with my teenaged daughter a few minutes ago. I was only a few years older than she when I watched the STS-1 launch with a couple of my friends who stayed over my house for the even. We still had the Apollo era habit of watching all the televised launches.

    It really did feel like a new beginning, the dawn of the era of (mostly) reusable spacecraft, just like in science fiction. The Shuttle may have turned out to be an abortive step toward the future, but it also accomplished a g

  • by cadeon (977561) on Friday July 08, 2011 @12:02PM (#36696742)

    It was time to end it. Over 30 years the shuttle has done some great things, but NASA has failed to fix what was broken with the STS and failed to upgrade it properly. Privatization is the best thing we can do for space; government involvement has gotten to big, bloated, and stupid for real innovation.

    Case and point- Mission Anomalies for STS-1- how many of these got properly fixed by the end of the program? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-1#Mission_anomalies [wikipedia.org]

    • by sgage (109086)

      "Privatization is the best thing we can do for space; government involvement has gotten to big, bloated, and stupid for real innovation."

      Is this some kind of religious mantra with people? Privatization might be fine for launching communications satellites, but other than that, any possible business model surely relies on government contracts. Sort of like it is now. Where is the profit motive in going to the Moon or Mars or anywhere else outside of LEO? There isn't one.

    • Over 30 years the shuttle has done some great things, but NASA has failed to fix what was broken with the STS and failed to upgrade it properly.

      NASA tried mightily - but NASA can only do what Congress and the Administration allow it do.

      Case and point- Mission Anomalies for STS-1- how many of these got properly fixed by the end of the program? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-1#Mission_anomalies [wikipedia.org]

      All of them.

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